Letter from Assistant Secretary Julia Taft, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
Dear Friend of PRM:
I am writing to fill you in on activities of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, which I joined as Assistant Secretary last November. After a one-day retreat of senior staff in January, we decided PRM should communicate more with its friends outside of the government. One simple way is to write you regularly; hence, this first of what we plan will be a quarterly letter. To be informal and brief, we won't recount all our activities. Because January-March was my first complete quarter at the helm, this letter will focus on that period.
Highlights: My senior deputy, Alan Kreczko, and I testified separately three times before congressional panels--in February and March--on PRM's budget and refugee resettlement projections for FY99, on the status of Vietnamese Montagnards and Jackson-Vanik, and on proposed legislation (H.R. 2431) on religious persecution. In January, I traveled for two weeks in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, and in March, the President waived Jackson-Vanik restrictions for Vietnam, after determining that Vietnam has progressed in liberalizing its emigration policies. A Bureau priority this year is the fair and just completion of the Resettlement Opportunity for Vietnamese Returnees--or ROVR-program and other refugee resettlement for eligible Vietnamese.
The Bureau also has begun the consultative process to propose refugee admissions numbers for FY-99 to the President. I have spoken with interested Congressmen and their staffs on their desire to increase future refugee numbers from Africa, and several of us from PRM met with InterAction's Committee on Migration and Refugee Affairs to hear the NGO community's recommendations on refugee numbers. I have recently undertaken a fact-finding trip to Moscow and Kiev, and I now fully appreciate the complexities of our caseload in the former Soviet Union.
On the Hill: In testifying before a House panel February 24 on PRM's FY99 budget request, I emphasized the U.S. commitment to protect and assist refugees. The Administration requested $650 million for the Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) account and $20 million for the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA) fund. As I told the committee, while the ERMA request is a reduction from the $50 million sought in previous years, it reflects the fact that there is a current balance in the emergency account of $120 million. The additional $20 million for ERMA provides the President with sufficient flexibility to respond to unforeseen refugee emergencies; we are committed to using this fund actively and wisely. In fact, PRM is currently preparing a request for a drawdown for emergency response requirements in Africa.
Population: My staff has been busy coordinating guidance used by Secretary Albright and other officials for use on the Hill in support of our international population assistance programs. A particular focus has been to clarify the debate on what U.S. international population policies and programs are all about. U.S. law prohibits the use of U.S. funds for abortion as a method of family planning or abortion-related lobbying. Providing women with the means to prevent unintended pregnancies will do more than anything else to reduce abortions. As Secretary Albright has said, "We support international family planning programs because we believe that women have a right to control their own bodies and because we want to reduce the demand for abortions and make it more likely that when children are born, they survive and thrive."
Refugees: It's clear to me that the humanitarian issues managed by PRM are central to several foreign policy challenges facing the U.S. PRM's role in the Balkans underscores this view. The U.S. has played the leading role in promoting refugee returns of ethnic minorities to Bosnia, supporting a major goal of the Dayton peace process. As a result of breakthrough developments supported by PRM in the second half of 1997, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has set an ambitious target of 30,000 minority returns in 1998. We've been focusing on this goal. Deputy Assistant Secretary Marguerite Houze, the Bureau's lead on refugee issues in the Balkans, attended the Sarajevo Return Conference in February, which laid the groundwork for significant minority returns to Sarajevo this year. I approved more than $50 million to support refugee return and help the most vulnerable refugees still in the former Yugoslavia.
Migration: INS Commissioner
Doris Meissner and I headed the U.S. delegation to the Third Regional
Conference on Migration in Ottawa in February. It included representatives
from the countries of Central and North America. PRM has the lead
in addressing migration issues with this group. During the conference,
and for the first time, the group met with NGOs from the region.
The U.S. candidate to head the International Organization for
Migration, Amb. Brunson McKinley, also was part of our delegation.
We explored migration policy, anti-trafficking strategies, and
related issues. We followed this up with a seminar on human rights
and migrants April 23-24 in Arlington.
A Look Ahead:
Thanks for your continued interest in the work of PRM.
Julia V. Taft
Assistant Secretary of State for
Population, Refugees, and Migration
[end of document]
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